With weeks of controversy over cat licenses now resolved, you might think that a new city animal control ordinance would pass without a hitch at tonight's City Council meeting. That may not be the case.
The City Council is set to approve a new animal control ordinance tonight that could include yet more restrictions on cats, namely a provision prohibiting feeding and releasing stray cats on public and private property north of Highway 101, where council members say feral cats could easily wipe out the few remaining burrowing owls at Shoreline Park. "North Bayshore" is also home to a large mobile home park and -- if a campaign is successful in changing city zoning -- the possible future site of a new residential neighborhood intended for North Bayshore's growing population of Google employees.
But -- and here's that twist that may be hard to get your head around -- that provision against feral cats in North Bayshore may actually increase the number of feral cats found there, warns Christina Peck of the Stanford Cat Network, a group known for sharply reducing the numbers of cats left by Stanford students over the years from an estimated 500 to a few dozen.
Peck said that under the proposed ordinance, the city would not be able to conduct its successful "Feral Freedom" program in North Bayshore in which cats are caught, neutered and released where they were found. She says that under the proposed ordinance, feral cats would inevitably wind up euthanized in local shelters, and that wouldn't be very effective either, because other cats would take their place in what's known as "the vacuum effect."
She explained in an email: "Regular trap-and-kill programs, where trapped cats are taken to a shelter and euthanized, do not work because cats are territorial, and when cats are removed from an area, other cats move in to fill the void (this is referred to as the vacuum effect)."
"Cats (who are smart creatures) soon realize that a trap equals disappearance of their fellow cats, and refuse to go into a trap, and thus continue to reproduce."
The new ordinance would also cause the city to lose the support of various rescue groups in controlling cats in a large portion of the city. "Rescue groups refuse to trap a healthy cat if it will be euthanized," said Peck.
Peck and the local chapter of the Audubon Society have found themselves at odds over the issue.
"Feral cats are recognized as a major cause of death of birds (and many other small animals and their young) in North America -- second only to habitat loss," said Shani Kleinhaus, environmental advocate for the Audubon Society. "Feeding cats does not stop them from hunting. It's an instinct, and they are really good at it."
"Cats are a problem in North Bayshore since they do roam into Shoreline -- a regional wildlife area, and into the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge nearby."
She said that feral cats are also impacting wildlife in parks and in riparian corridors elsewhere in the city.
"Many bird species in these habitats are in decline, many nest on the ground or in bushes, and the cats capture the nestlings in the nests, the fledglings as they practice flying," said Kleinhaus. "They have a devastating impact on our ecosystems."
Peck has a counter-argument.
"The Audubon Society would like to see all outdoor cats banned in North Bayshore (including pets), and is heavily lobbying the Council with misinformation," she said.
Peck says that animal control officers have yet to find a cat problem in North Bayshore and that "the council will vote on wording based on hearsay and fear."
"Banning the feeding and releasing of feral cats will not protect wildlife, but instead will cause their population to increase dramatically," Peck said. "And Mountain View already has a proven, effective way of stabilizing and reducing the population of feral cats: Feral Freedom."
The city's report for tonight's animal control ordinance vote can be found here. The meeting will be held in City Hall at 500 Castro St. The regular meeting begins tonight at 7 p.m.
This story has been edited to clarify the extent of the city's animal control proposals